Roberto Di Matteo’s dismissal is one of the least deserved in recent footballing history. I’m sure people could give me plenty of previous unfair examples, but surely they could not argue that he deserved to go. He’s had just 5 competitive losses this year, and 21 competitive games ago he won the Champions League for Chelsea, defeating Barcelona, Napoli and Bayern Munich along the way. It was the trophy Abramovich had pined for throughout his reign. The justification for Ancelotti being sacked after winning the double was his poor Champions League form. Di Matteo succeeded where other Managers had failed; his reward was his P45 as soon as results slightly dipped.
To sack Di Matteo on league form is preposterous – Chelsea started the season with a swagger and success not seen before, even under Mourinho. They’ve lost 2 league games this year, against an in-form West Brom and in controversial circumstances to Manchester United. Blips against QPR, Liverpool and Swansea may not be ideal but are no reason to sack someone. They were in top position as recently as 4 games ago and are a mere 4 points off it even now.
Abramovich might use Chelsea’s Champions League form as an excuse, and admittedly they have been mediocre in Europe’s most high-profile competition. However, they’ve been considerably better than Roberto Mancini’s Man City (a man with a worse time-to-success ratio than Di Matteo and with none of the ‘Club Legend’ status), and Di Matteo’s record in the Champions League is better than any of his predecessors.
Moreover, how does Abramovich think another Manager would help them out in this position? It’s out of their hands – the best Di Matteo can do in that position is the best any other Manager in the world can do. I’m sure Di Matteo is as capable of engineering a win against Nordsjaelland as anyone else is (let’s face it, they’re Group E’s whipping boys), so how can sacking the Manager – at this stage – help anyone?
It’s quite clear that Abramovich never wanted Di Matteo. Chelsea’s reasoning for sacking him does not hold up:
“The team’s recent performances and results have not been good enough and the owner and the board felt that a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction as we head into a vitally important part of the season.”
So ‘recent’ means ‘the last four games’ does it? If that is the case, then every Football Manager may as well pack his bags. The fact of the matter is that RDM doesn’t fit into Abramovich’s idealistic vision of a superstar Chelsea run by a superstar Manager with superstar players. His previous job was West Bromwich Albion, where he was sacked (again, rather unfairly), whereas the jobs of other Managers in Roman’s reign include Porto, AC Milan and the Portuguese national team.
Even after Di Matteo improved Chelsea’s league form, won them two trophies and revitalised the likes of Drogba, Lampard and Torres – all of whom floundered under AVB – Abramovich was still obviously reluctant to hire him full time as a Manager. He clearly hated that Di Matteo’s success took the matter out of his own hands. Why did Abramovich wait nearly a month after winning the Double to hire Di Matteo full time? That kind of success is rare, yet Abramovich was still reluctant to acknowledge it.
So what did Abramovich do? He decided to wait. Wait until the first blip, until Di Matteo messed up. He almost had it in Chelsea not winning in the Premier League in 4 games (God, it still sounds ridiculous that that’s been punished with dismissal); the groundwork was laid. All he needed was a catalyst, an example where Di Matteo was unavoidably responsible so some of the Chelsea fans will have doubts about their beloved Manager.
He got that in their 3-0 loss away to Juventus. The loss by itself may still have been enough, but it was Di Matteo’s gamble of playing without a Centre Forward, a la Spain (ironically, with the same striker sacrificed in each system), that gave him the evidence. It didn’t work, Chelsea lost limply, Di Matteo shouldered all the blame in a press conference, and he was gone.
Abramovich treating Managers like disposable razors is nothing out of the ordinary, even if Di Matteo’s is the harshest of the lot. If Benitez, Redknapp, Guardiola or Mourinho come in to replace him they should only expect the same level of “loyalty”. However, the bigger picture here is worrying for all Managers, as it’s the most recent in a series of undeserved and impulsive sackings. Solely in the English Premier League for the last two years we have:
Chris Hughton (Newcastle) – brought the Magpies back to the top flight after relegation, brought in current team regulars Perch, Williamson, Simpson and Tiote. Sacked December 6th 2010 with Newcastle 12th in the League.
Sam Allardyce (Blackburn) – safely midtable for two years at Blackburn and built up a formidable home record. Sacked with Blackburn 13th in mid-December 2010.
Neil Warnock (QPR) – transformed them from relegation-fears to Championship winners in just over a year, bringing much-needed stability to a club which had previously been a Managerial merry-go-round, revolutionised Adel Taarabt and returned them to the Premier League after 15 years. Was rewarded with the sack after a dip in form. Sacked on 8th January 2012 with QPR 17th.
Mick McCarthy (Wolves) – had been Wolves Manager for 6 years when sacked. Slowly built them from Championship also-rans to the Premier League with many home-grown players and was promoted in 1st place in 2009. Brought them their best league finish (15th) since 1980 in the following season and avoided relegation again in their second consecutive top-flight campaign. Despite winning the relegation game twice, he was sacked with Wolves in 18th place on 13th February 2012.
Harry Redknapp (Tottenham) – in his four years at Spurs, he: (1) saved Tottenham from relegation to a mid-table finish in his first season (2) brought about their best-ever season in the next campaign (70 points, 4th place and Champions League), winning the Manager of the Year in the process (3) took Spurs to the Champions League quarter finals (4) created the best Tottenham team since the inauguration of the Premier League, finished 4th again despite being in the top 3 for much of the season and only lost out on Champions League due to Chelsea winning it. Was inexplicably sacked in the summer of 2012.
It seems to be a trend that success isn’t enough in this current climate. Matching the expectations of the fans and the club does not guarantee your job – you need to surpass it. What kind of a message does that send out to Managers? Who on earth would want to become a Manager in that environment? We run the risk of alienating future Managers by abiding by this philosophy.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that all of the above, bar Hughton, would have done better for their clubs than those they were replaced with did (although time will tell with Villas-Boas at Tottenham). If the mantra that success is not rewarded with loyalty, patience and trust is upheld, I anticipate a scenario where the only Managers in the game are previous players. Who would want go through the coaching badges and slowly climb the ladder to management if they’re devoting their entire life to a goal (of being a Manager) that can be taken away even if they’ve been successful? I hope I’m wrong, but personally, I wouldn’t want to work in a career where I’m forever worrying about being fired.